A new video investigation from People Make Games has accused Roblox Corporation of "exploiting" young game developers.
The video, below, from People Make Games' Quintin Smith, reveals Roblox's shady exchange system, which, it claims, makes it incredibly hard for developers to make money from the platform.
The video also runs through how Roblox, which has 200 million monthly users, encourages young game developers to work incredibly hard with unreasonable expectations of success.
Roblox revolves around kids making games for other kids to play. Its developers can monetise their games, and are paid in a virtual currency called Robux.
As PMG points out, getting your game noticed among the millions available on the platform is extremely difficult - but you can use Robux to bid for an ad slot in an auction.
If any Robux user wants to turn their Robux into real money, the minimum withdrawal amount is 100,000 Robux, which is worth around $1000. This increases the chances a Roblox developer will not hit the cap and plough the money back into Roblox.
Meanwhile, creators cannot withdraw any Robux unless they first pay for a Roblox monthly premium subscription. And, as PMG points out, Roblox buys Robux from users at a different rate than it sells them (100,000 Robux gets you $350).
PMK compares this system to historical mining and logging camps paying workers in company scrip.
The video also includes a remarkable interview with an 11-year-old boy who tried and failed to make it as a Roblox developer. "Even though Roblox encourages you to make games, the likelihood of you making a successful game is basically zero," the boy says. "You always compete with the people that have lots of money."
Eurogamer contacted Roblox Corporation for comment on PMG's video. Its response failed to address specific allegations, speaking in general terms about the increasing amount of money paid out to its developers, and the various support programs available to help its developers succeed on the platform.
Here's the statement in full:
"Roblox is a User-Generated Content (UGC) platform where people around the world come together to connect and enjoy experiences together. All of the experiences are built by our community, who use our free tools to create deep, rich, immersive experiences for the community to enjoy.
"At the same time, building experiences on Roblox teaches the fundamentals of coding, digital civility, and entrepreneurship and has helped many begin their careers in STEM.
"Developers and creators, large and small, are key to bringing this ecosystem to life and realising this vision. We are heavily invested in making our developer and creator community successful and continue to look for opportunities for community success. In fact, we have seen a dramatic increase in developer earnings as evidence in our Q2 financials:
"Specifically, for Q2 2021, Developer Exchange Fees (the amount of money developers earned on the Roblox platform) totaled $129.7m, up 53 percent over Q2 2020 and up 5.6x over the $23.3m that the developer community earned in Q2 2019.
"Through the first six months of 2021, our developer community has earned $248.7m, and we are on pace to share half a billion dollars with our community in 2021; which is around 5x the amount our community earned in 2019.
"Collectively, developers and creators contribute to our platform in three ways: 1) by building experiences for their friends and users on the platform as a whole to enjoy; 2) by building avatar items for users to acquire and express themselves with; and 3) by building tools and 3D models for other developers and creators to utilise. Our developers play an integral role in the health of the Roblox ecosystem.
"We work to help the community grow, support their needs, and ensure mutual success.
"Our community has evolved over the years. Once powered by individual part-time developers, it has grown to include small groups of collaborators, and now full-time studios that focus exclusively on developing on Roblox.
"In the past 12 months we've doubled the number of developers (now over 600) who are earning $85K+ a year from their creations on Roblox.
"We want to see more developers creating on the platform, and we have a dedicated Developer Relations team that focuses on providing support to our growing community through a variety of resources, programs, and systems designed to help them succeed.
"We host programs to help accelerate developer success through focus groups, game design consultations, beta testing groups, and a public forum where they can have discussions and provide feedback.
"Our developers take surveys and share feedback to help us prioritise roadmap items and ensure we provide the best support.
"We also support developers through a number of programs including an Accelerator internship program, engagement-based payouts, and the recently announced Game Fund and Talent Hub, which were created to help developers find success on the platform.
"Continued investment in our developer community leads to better content, which leads to improved user engagement and growth. We nurture this cycle by providing support to our developer community and giving them the tools and technology to easily build, publish, operate, and monetise content. We continue to focus on pushing a greater share of the economics to our developers and growing the overall pool of capital available to them."
Eurogamer asked Quintin Smith, the journalist behind PMG's investigation into Roblox, what can be done to combat the issues revealed in the video.
"First, let me just say that I'm not a specialist on this subject," Smith replied. "We only really scratched the surface of the Roblox platform with this video. Just look at the comments - they're packed full of Roblox users pointing out separate issues with Roblox that our video didn't even touch on, like how the platform also plays home to games with many of the worst, most predatory monetisation methods video games have ever seen. We've also seen people saying that Roblox's outsourced moderation is also worthy of standalone investigation.
"I think before we can start earnestly having the discussion about 'What should be done' about Roblox, the industry first needs to grasp exactly what is happening on the platform, because so far I think the games press has been sleeping on it. It feels like for far too many years we've treated Roblox as some weird, janky program that kids play around with, and in that darkness an enormously manipulative and ethically questionable children's publisher has sprung up.
"Roblox can't be allowed to continue operating the way they're operating, I don't think, but right now I think the ball's in the court of the games press, not Roblox - what should happen next is journalists breaking out their notepads and flashlights and doing their own investigations of the platform."